When Julius Fabricius Sub-Prefect of the Weald
In the days of Diocletian owned our Lower River-field
He called to him Hobdenius—a Briton of the Clay
Saying: “What about that River-piece for layin’ in to hay?”
And the aged Hobden answered: “I remember as a ladMy father told your father that she wanted dreenin’ bad.
An’ the more that you neeglect her the less you’ll get her clean.
Have it jest as you’ve a mind to but if I was you I’d dreen.”
So they drained it long and crossways in the lavish Roman style —
Still we find among the river-drift their flakes of ancient tile
And in drouthy middle August when the bones of meadows show
We can trace the lines they followed sixteen hundred years ago.
Then Julius Fabricius died as even Prefects do
And after certain centuries Imperial Rome died too.
Then did robbers enter Britain from across the Northern main
And our Lower River-field was won by Ogier the Dane.
Well could Ogier work his war-boat—well could Ogier wield his brand—
Much he knew of foaming waters—not so much of farming land.
So he called to him a Hobden of the old unaltered blood
Saying: “What about that River-piece; she doesn’t look no good ?”
And that aged Hobden answered “‘Tain’t for me to interfere.
But I’ve known that bit o’ meadow now for five and fifty year.
Have it jest as you’ve a mind to but I’ve proved it time on ‘ time
If you want to change her nature you have got to give her lime!”
Ogier sent his wains to Lewes twenty hours’ solemn walk
And drew back great abundance of the cool grey healing chalk.
And old Hobden spread it broadcast never heeding what was in’t—
Which is why in cleaning ditches now and then we find a flint.
Ogier died. His sons grew English—Anglo-Saxon was their name—
Till out of blossomed Normandy another pirate came;
For Duke William conquered England and divided with his men
And our Lower River-field he gave to William of Warenne.
But the Brook (you know her habit) rose one rainy autumn night
And tore down sodden flitches of the bank to left and right.
So said William to his Bailiff as they rode their dripping rounds:
“Hob what about that River-bit—the Brook’s got up no bounds ?”
And that aged Hobden answered: “‘Tain’t my business to advise
But ye might ha’ known ‘twould happen from the way the valley lies.
Where ye can’t hold back the water you must try and save the sile.
Hev it jest as you’ve a mind to but if I was you I’d spile!”
They spiled along the water-course with trunks of willow-trees
And planks of elms behind ’em and immortal oaken knees.
And when the spates of Autumn whirl the gravel-beds away
You can see their faithful fragments iron-hard in iron clay.
Georgii Quinti Anno Sexto I who own the River-field
Am fortified with title-deeds attested signed and sealed
Guaranteeing me my assigns my executors and heirs
All sorts of powers and profits which—are neither mine nor theirs
I have rights of chase and warren as my dignity requires.
I can fish—but Hobden tickles—I can shoot—but Hobden wires.
I repair but he reopens certain gaps which men allege
Have been used by every Hobden since a Hobden swapped a hedge.
Shall I dog his morning progress o’er the track-betraying dew ?
Demand his dinner-basket into which my pheasant flew ?
Confiscate his evening faggot under which my conies ran
And summons him to judgment ? I would sooner summons Pan.
His dead are in the churchyard—thirty generations laid.
Their names were old in history when Domesday Book was made;
And the passion and the piety and prowess of his line
Have seeded rooted fruited in some land the Law calls mine.
Not for any beast that burrows not for any bird that flies
Would I lose his large sound counsel miss his keen amending eyes.
He is bailiff woodman wheelwright field-surveyor engineer
And if flagrantly a poacher—’tain’t for me to interfere.
“Hob what about that River-bit ?” I turn to him again
With Fabricius and Ogier and William of Warenne.
“Hev it jest as you’ve a mind to but”—and here he takes command.
For whoever pays the taxes old Mus’ Hobden owns the land.